Friday, December 13, 2019

Where is home?

From the day I left Manila four and half decades ago, my dream had always been of coming back home again. Home to my mother and father, my siblings, the girls from school I grew up with, all the familiar smells, tastes and sounds of the place of my birth.

Today, my parents are gone. My siblings have gotten married and have started their own families.  My girlfriends have done the same, many of them moving to other countries as well.  Each and every person in my place called home has moved on.  Maybe just down the road or all the way across the globe.  But home is no longer what I had envisioned it to be.

So, where is home?

It is no longer the house my father built in Marikina. Sure, the mezzanine where the beige rotary dial phone used to be, is still there. The phone has gone many years ago to a trash heap.  Replaced by more modern cellular devices. But I can still see myself huddled in that corner by the window, in the wee hours of the morning, talking to my best friend, trying to contain the excitement in my voice as I describe the boy who asked me to dance and then asked for my number. So many hours of my life spent in that one spot   - laughing, crying, dreaming.

There are but a few traces of life as I knew it then.  The memories remain though. And the feelings that come with the flood of memories is overwhelming, even palpable.  Coming home in September for the reunion of our 1969 high school class threw me into an emotional overflow that still lingers to this day.

It wasn’t because of the frenetic catch-up rehearsals for the 7- minute dance performance in the auditorium and the lunches, dinners, even breakfast get-togethers in-between.  It was really going back 50 years to 1969.  Remembering once again all the insecurities of being 16 – middle class, not exceptionally brilliant in school, certainly not one of the beautiful belles, not wearing an oversized boy’s college ring on my left ring finger or even hanging from a gold chain on my neck, just one of the girls in a class of 120.

Walking into the first reunion meeting took a lot of courage.  Yes, I do have my core group of good friends, the ones I have remained in close touch with through the years by mail or by phone.  The girls who make up my must-see list each time I come to Manila.

But then there are all the others!  That was unknown territory.  Will they be as friendly and as welcoming? 

They were.  Really.  There were open arms and tight hugs everywhere.   Naturally, there were some awkward moments too. One former classmate even asked me to point out who I was from our high school graduation picture.  
 50 years can change one’s appearance.  Some of the girls were instantly recognizable.   Others took a bit longer to recall until the familiar sound of a voice, a certain smile or a mannerism triggered a chord in my declining memory.  Followed by even tighter hugs to conceal the embarrassment and to affirm the genuineness of the sentiment. 

Yes, 50 years not only changes how we look; it changes how we view the world.  At 16, the future was crystal clear – go to college, find a job, get married, have children…  Whilst eating lunch in the canteen, we would look at the other girls and try to guess who was going to be successful, famous, important, mom of many children and some, even all of the above!

Fast forward to 2019 and we have all come to realize that it was neither simple nor clear. Our preconceived ideas of our rightful place in the world was exactly that … pre- and ill- conceived.

The best part of the reunion is that as I embraced each familiar face and recalled some of the crazy, mundane, happy, even sad events of our lives, we knew that we had all come a long way from the confines of our convent walls and our sheltered lives. We have all lived and have survived, some better than others.  But that is what life teaches you along the way as well. It’s not a perfect world out there. We just have to create a safe haven for ourselves and for the ones we love where ever we are.

So, where is home?

For me, home, like the cliché goes, is where the heart is.  And my heart is in many places.  It is in Manila with my siblings, my extended family and my childhood friends.  It is in every place that I have lived in, where friendships born out of necessity have blossomed into lifelong attachments.  

 It is here in Hilversum, in our little white house with green trimmings where we have lived for the last 22 years.  The home which our children have used as a springboard to start their own lives. It is here where our grandchildren now come to play with the toys their parents have left in our attic.

Where is home? 

I am home. 

Post script :  The black and white sketch above was done by a little girl named Olivia.


The one true cure for homesickness (aside from taking the plane home) is food from home.  And for me, at the moment, it's Palitaw.  A simple, 4-ingredient wonder that lies heavy on the tummy when you eat too much.  But it sure makes the heart feel happy and light! 

for the dough :
2 cups glutinous rice flour
1 cup water 

the garnish :
1/4 cup white sugar
2 tbsp roasted sesame seeds
1 cup grated coconut 

for cooking :  10 -12 cups of water  in a large pot 

Procedure : 

1. Boil the water.

 2. In a large bowl, combine the rice flour and the water.  Mix this by hand, add more water if it feels dry.  But do this carefully, adding just a bit at a time.  The consistency should be like soft, maleable playdough! 
Take a bit of dough and form it into a ball, the size of a big walnut.  Then flatten it with your hand to form an oblong or even round patty.  Place on a plate or cookie.

3. As soon as the water starts to boil, drop one patty at a time.  Once the patty is cooked, it will float to the top (thus the name - palitaw - to appear!).  Lift each one from the water with a slotted spoon and gently lay it on a plate to cool.  Do this until all the dough has been cooked. 

4.  For the garnish -  Prepare 2 plates.  Place the grated coconut on one and the sesame seeds mixed with sugar in another.  First, coat both sides of each patty with coconut.  Then dip it in the sugar mixture, making sure both sides are coated.
Arrange the patties on a nice serving plate and sprinkle the leftover coconut and sugar mixture on top. 

Please note that this dessert/merienda should be eaten within the day.  It really does not keep.  Nor can it be refrigerated.   Keep it in a cool place once done and serve within a few  hours.



Valerie said...

So true, Alma. For someone who has lived in 3 continents, like you, I feel at home wherever I am.
Glad to read your writing again...keep it up!

Nena Gepuela Sese said...

As always, I have enjoyed precious moments visualizing your blog. You are stating all the sentiments I feel. Our minds are truly treasure troves!

Alma said...

Thank you Val,
I hope to be able to find the time to write again.
love, alma

Alma said...

Dear Nena,
You are so much part of home for me.
big hug!